What Is Fentanyl Addiction?

Fentanyl Addiction: Signs, Dangers and Recovery

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is an opioid pain reliever which is between 50 and 100 time stronger than morphine. Fentanyl is a synthetic pharmaceutical drug that is legally available by prescription from a doctor.

Fentanyl is used to treat patients who are in severe pain, such as after surgery, during cancer treatment or when a patient is experiencing breakthrough pain (a flareup of intense pain that ‘breaks through’ whatever narcotic pain relief the patient is already taking). It is also used as part of general anaesthetic or conscious sedation during surgery or painful medical procedure.

Fentanyl is available in a number of different forms which are designed to meet a variety of medical purposes; Actiq is fentanyl in a lollipop form which is placed under the tongue, Duragesic (a patch) is another form of fentanyl to treat pain and its effects last up to 3 days, Sublimaze is an injectable form of fentanyl given to patients post-surgery,  Subsys is sprayed under a patient’s tongue for immediate pain relief of breakthrough pain, Abstral is a fast dissolving tablet placed under the tongue which also gives immediate relief, and Lazanda is fentanyl in a nasal spray form – most often used to relive pain in cancer patients.

Like other opioids, Fentanyl works by blocking pain receptors in the brain and increasing production of the happiness-inducing chemical, dopamine. Street names for fentanyl include Apache, Tango and Cash, Dance Fever, TNT and Crush.

Fentanyl addiction is not only an issue among those who have been prescribed the drug. Fentanyl has become a mainstream drug, taken recreationally and supported by multi-million dollar black market and illicit manufacturing operations in the United States, Canada and around the world. The potency of Fentanyl (roughly 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine) means that its appeal has transcended doctors’ surgeries; it is now a recreational drug in its own right which is rapidly attracting the masses.

Fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs which leads to complications and makes it difficult to gauge the amount taken. Among an estimated 70,200 drug overdose deaths in 2017 the largest increase was related to Fentanyl and its analogues, with more than 28,400 overdose deaths. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2018, fentanyl was then considered the number one drug leading to opioid overdose deaths in America.

Fentanyl Effects & Dangers

All opioid pain relievers (OPRs), including fentanyl, present significant addiction risks.

While those who use fentanyl as prescribed benefit from pain relief, those taking higher doses of fentanyl, at unprescribed levels, experience an intense euphoria and sense of relaxation similar to a heroin “high.”

Fentanyl abuse is especially dangerous to those without a tolerance to opioids. The substance’s already elevated risk of overdose is multiplied when someone without a tolerance abuses it.

Abuse of fentanyl can depress the respiratory system to the point of failure, easily leading to a fatal overdose. Mixing fentanyl with illicit narcotics like heroin or stimulants like cocaine, amplify the drug’s damaging side effects. Whether taken as prescribed or bought on the black market and abused recreationally, fentanyl is a volatile and potentially lethal drug.

Recognizing the Signs of Fentanyl Abuse and Addiction

Outward symptoms of fentanyl abuse can vary from person to person, but some common signs to look out for include:

  • Slowed breathing
  • Seizures
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Constipation
  • Pupillary constriction
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Itching
  • Euphoria
  • Mellowness
  • Drowsiness

You may also see a change in the personality of a fentanyl addict as they become more secretive, stop taking part in activities which they previously enjoyed and lying about where they are going and who they are seeing. They may also experience financial issues, begin taking time off or missing days at work and suffer from relationship problems.

Fentanyl impacts the central nervous system to a significant degree, causing excess amounts of dopamine to flood and chemically alter the brain over time. Due to these neurochemical changes, someone prescribed fentanyl might become dependent on the drug and turn to illegal methods of getting it after exhausting their prescribed amount.

Once someone develops a tolerance to the narcotic properties of fentanyl, he or she will depend on it to feel “normal,” and will require larger quantities of the drug to reach the previous sensations.

OPRs (Opioid Pain Relievers) like fentanyl can escalate from abuse to full-blown addiction rapidly. Although Healthcare professionals can pinpoint problematic behaviour like building a tolerance or suffering withdrawal symptoms, once an individual is addicted they will usually start looking for an alternative / additional supply to sustain them.

It is important to remember that in today’s global opioid epidemic, not all fentanyl users started out using fentanyl under prescription. Fentanyl has sadly hit the streets with a vengence, which means for many users there is no medical or government regulatory oversight. The strength of one batch of black market fentanyl can be ten times stronger than the next and can be mixed with other drugs in the manufacture process. No oversight also means that users are not tracked concerning the amounts they are taking, as is typically done with legally prescribed fentanyl; with health care professionals on the lookout for signs of addiction.  The purely illicit fentanyl users are going unchecked while their tolerance to the drug develops rapidly and an addiction takes hold.

Fentanyl Withdrawal and Treatment

Although rarely life-threatening, cutting out fentanyl completely and going “cold turkey” can be a miserable process. Fentanyl withdrawal varies in severity depending on a number of factors such as the length of time on the drug, the amount used each day and the chosen form of the substance. Withdrawal symptoms range from marked irritability and chills through to vomiting, diarrhea, sweating and restlessness. If the user was initially prescribed fentanyl for pain relief of a problem that still exists, the user may be dealing with the initial pain problem and fentanyl withdrawal combined.

For those with severe fentanyl addictions, The Lighthouse Bali is one of the only rehabs in Bali that are able to provide a medical detox. A medical detox is closely monitored by our medical and clinical teams. It is, by far, the safest and most comfortable way to detox from fentanyl.

Despite the typically non-lethal nature of fentanyl withdrawal, it can be extremely challenging without a medical detox. Even following an initial primary program,  users are still vulnerable to potential relapse. For this reason, in all Primary Inpatient Programs at The Lighthouse Bali we allocate a significant portion of time to relapse prevention planning prior to the end of your stay.

Inpatient Care and Rehab

The Lighthouse Bali’s proven combination of an initial Primary Inpatient Program*2  followed by Outpatient Care and Ongoing Therapy has helped Fentanyl addicts from around the world get their lives back on track. Through individually tailored treatment, professional therapy, and compassionate support, you will be given the tools you need to ensure the best possible chances of a long term recovery.

*2 The duration of Primary Inpatient Programs and Outpatient Care varies according to individual circumstances. Both Inpatient and Outpatient treatment is based around monthly (28 day) increments. As a general guideline we recommend between two and three months Primary Inpatient Programs for opioid users, followed by one to two months Outpatient Care in Bali, and up to six months of ongoing therapy (by Zoom or Skype from home). The longer you stay in rehab, the better your chances of achieving long term sobriety when you return home. 

If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, we urge you to reach out and contact us in confidence. Our private programs are tailormade to suit individual needs and our doctorate level clinical staff have extensive experience in the field of addiction. If you are not currently in Bali but would like to begin a recovery program immediately, we also have online recovery options available which can be taken in this interim period before Bali reopens international borders.

We understand how difficult it can be to reach out for help, but you only need to do it once. Picking up the phone or sending an email is your first step on the road to recovery. You do not need to go through this alone and we are ready to listen.

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